In every general election, the state of Idaho averages a significant number of residents who register on Election Day to vote: About 50,000 people.
"It really has been fantastic for voters," said Kristie Winslow, the communications coordinator for Idaho's Secretary of State. "The law is very important to the citizens of Idaho because it protects their right to vote."
And the option may soon be available to Michigan voters under a November ballot proposal that would usher in sweeping changes to the state's election law. The proposal would allow absentee ballots for any reason, provide the option of straight-ticket voting, and allow a citizen to register to vote up to and on Election Day, among other provisions.
The Promote the Vote question — Proposal 3 on the ballot — would bring Michigan in line with at least 17 other states when it comes to same-day voter registration, such as Idaho, Colorado and Wisconsin.
The proposal, which is largely funded by ACLU Michigan, has been endorsed by many officials and organizations across the state, including Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, the League of Women Voters and the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce.
The proposal also seems to already have overwhelming support among voters, according to an EPIC/MRA statewide poll of 600 active and likely voters that was taken Sept. 21-25 for the Free Press and its media partners. Seventy percent of those surveyed say they'll vote for the proposal, with 25 percent opposed and 6 percent undecided.
But questions have also been raised by some about how the proposal may impact the state.
Here's what the proposal would do:
- Protect the right to vote a secret ballot
- Ensure military service members and overseas voters can obtain ballots
- Provide Michigan residents with the option to vote straight party
- Automatically register citizens to vote at the Secretary of State’s office unless the citizen declines
- Allow a citizen to register to vote anytime with proof of residency
- Provide all registered voters access to an absentee ballot for any reason
- Ensure the accuracy and integrity of elections by auditing election results
Kary Moss, the ACLU's director of affiliate support and nationwide initiatives, said 37 states already have one or more of the elements of the proposal in place.
"The right to vote is the most fundamental right in a democracy," Moss said. "Proposal 2 and Proposal 3 are a one-two punch and step for democracy. If Proposal 3 passes, it'll mean a much high voter turnout in the next presidential election."
Proposal 2 would transfer the power to draw the state's congressional and legislative districts from the state Legislature to an independent redistricting commission.
Same day voter registration
Moss said Proposal 3 has been a long time coming.
In July, a coalition of supporters submitted more than 430,000 signatures to the state, exceeding the required 315,654 signatures from across all 83 counties to get the proposal on the ballot. Moss said changing and strengthening Michigan's voting laws has been an ongoing effort that finally gained momentum a few years ago.
"After the presidential election in 2016, we heard a tremendous desire on the ground and around the state in urban communities that voting should be easier," Moss said. "Michigan is a real outlier behind other states in providing basic protection against voter suppression."
Proposal 3 would give voters the ability to register to vote by mail on or before the 15th day before an election. It would also allow voters to register with proof of residency up to and on Election Day.
Many states, such as Idaho, allow voters to register up to and on Election Day at the polls, as long as they have a photo ID and some form of proof of residency. Idaho's law went into effect in 1994.
Winslow said that while Idaho doesn't have a large voter population — the state has slightly more than 1.2 million people eligible to vote — the law has had a significant impact.
Of the 936,529 registered voters in 2016, Winslow said, about 50,000 were same-day registrations.
"Most of the people who register at the polls are simply voters who need to re-register because they have moved since the last election," Winslow said.
Fred Woodhams, a spokesperson for outgoing Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, said while she has no official stance on the proposal, she "has concerns about the same-day registration portion of the proposal."
"Clerks would not have sufficient time to mail out a non-forwardable mailing to confirm a voter’s address as they do now," Woodhams said in an email. "A person would be able to sign the affidavit to register to vote without showing identification and present a single proof of residency. The lack of identity confirmation could open the door to registration fraud that would be difficult to detect on Election Day."
Winslow said Idaho has not seen an influx of voter fraud since its law went into effect.
"We really have not seen here in Idaho people trying to get around or double vote or any of that nonsense," Winslow said. "The majority of people (benefiting from the law) are simply people who moved within Idaho but haven't registered."
Moss said the proposal would prevent fraud through the required auditing process.
Woodhams also said that a large portion of the proposal "already exists in state and federal law," including a secret ballot, post-election audits and a requirement to send out ballots to military voters 45 days ahead of Election Day.
But advocates have said the proposal would cement those rights within the state's constitution.
'No reason' absentee voting
At least 37 other states and Washington, D.C., allow voters to obtain absentee ballots with no given reason. But Michigan currently requires a voter under 60 to choose from at least six reasons as to why they need to vote absentee.
Those reasons include being unable to vote without assistance at the polls, being out of town on Election Day, or being unable to attend the polls because of religious reasons.
Promote the Vote advocates, including retired Ottawa County Clerk Daniel Krueger, have argued that it would make it easier for working parents, and other voters with time-constraints, to vote.
"As a clerk one of the objectives that I had was to make sure everyone who has the legal right to vote has access to polls on Election Day and this proposal does that," Krueger said. "I've had people that have ... said, 'I don't have time to get to the polls on Election Day. Why don't I have access to an absentee ballot?'"
Krueger said he thinks the public will welcome the change.
Winslow said Idaho also has no-reason absentee voting, which she said has also empowered voters who have mobility issues or who just desire an ease of voting.
"I believe it's also really important for reasons of accessibility," Winslow said. "I think it's also a benefit to counties who are running elections because it reduces election lines on Election Day and allows them to count ballots ahead of time. As our population grows, it's definitely useful."
Right to vote by straight party ticket
The Republican-led Legislature voted to end Michigan's 127-year practice of straight party-ticket voting in 2015 and in early September, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene in a dispute over whether to revive it.
But Proposal 3 would change that.
It would once again give voters the ability to just check one box on a ballot to cast a vote for one party, across all positions.
A number of states have moved to ban straight-ticket voting in recent years. But some have continued to allow it, including Alabama, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Utah, South Carolina and Kentucky, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Meanwhile, Indiana allows the practice for elections excluding at-large races, while Texas will discontinue straight-ticket voting starting in 2020.
Advocates of straight party ticket voting, including the non-profit and nonpartisan organization Engage Michigan, have argued that the removal can lead to longer lines at the polls and increased confusion among voters.
The organization was among many, including the ACLU of Michigan and the NAACP, that signed a joint letter sent to Johnson earlier this month, demanding she release a plan to educate voters around the elimination of straight-party voting in Michigan.
According to Engage, nearly half of Michigan voters have used the option over past elections and within that, a large majority were African-Americans.
Engage hasn't endorsed any of the proposals on the November ballot but Denzel McCampbell, deputy communications director for Engage Michigan, said much of the organization's work recently has centered on educating voters about the straight party ticket voting change ahead of November.
"It's concerning," McCampbell said. "We're looking at the potential for long lines. There hasn't been a robust education around straight party voting. It just seems like another way for folks to be disenfranchised and it could be confusing for folks who have been used to this option ... Especially for older voters. It's going to be very jarring."
Kat Stafford is the Detroit government watchdog reporter for the Free Press, covering city issues and the community. Contact Kat Stafford: email@example.com or 313-223-4759.
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